With news of Corey Graham’s release adding another hole in the Buffalo Bills’ depth chart, the early-goings of the 2017 free agency period certainly have been eventful. There is still plenty of time for the Bills to add pieces to the roster; however, the number of holes the Bills currently have will make covering them all quite a daunting task. With only six draft picks, the team will have to be creative in acquiring talent.
Which positional groups are the ones in need of the most help? After poring over the team’s official roster, it’s clear that most areas are in serious need of depth, upgrades, or both. Here are a few that could be helped most effectively by signing free agents prior to the 2017 NFL Draft.
This is a rough spot that has been rough for quite some time. After losing Robert Woods to the Los Angeles Rams, the Bills have four wideouts on the depth chart: Sammy Watkins, Walt Powell, Kolby Listenbee, and Dezmin Lewis. That isn’t a group that inspires much confidence, especially considering its most talented player has missed 11 games due to injury over the last two years and is also coming off a second foot surgery in the last calendar year. This seems like a spot where the Bills should consider adding both a free agent and a draft pick, although Spotrac’s estimated market value for veteran options such as Kamar Aiken (7.5 million/year), Michael Floyd (8.6 million/year), Kendall Wright (7.1 million/year), and Brian Quick (5.6 million/year) all seem to be a bit cost-prohibitive. The Bills aren’t exactly hurting for cap space, with approximately 23.5 million dollars remaining after Graham’s release, but without restructuring the contracts of Cordy Glenn and Marcell Dareus, breaking the bank on a No. 2 receiver would limit their ability to acquire talent in other places. The team could also find creative ways to make a player’s 2017 cap number fit the budget while moving higher years to the back of the contract when they have fewer obligations on the books. Regardless, this is an embarrassingly thin group in desperate need of improvement.
I wish I could narrow it down a bit more, but I really can’t. A quick glance at the roster shows four cornerbacks (Ronald Darby, Kevon Seymour, Charles Gaines, and Marcus Roberson), so even if “jack-of-all-trades” Micah Hyde slides from safety to corner in some situations, depth is necessary. Our EIC Chris Trapasso mentioned Alterraun Verner as a possible veteran add, but someone like Captain Munnerlyn, who played for the Carolina Panthers while Head Coach Sean McDermott was there from 2011-2013, could also make sense. Cornerback is another area where both veteran help and draft pick assistance will probably be necessary.
As for the safeties, aside from Hyde and fellow free agent signing Jordan Poyer, the group consists of special teamers (Colt Anderson and Shamiel Gary), uninspiring holdovers from last season (Jonathan Dowling), and future-contract fliers (Joe Powell). A high draft pick like Malik Hooker or Jamal Adams could be the addition here, but if both of those players are off the table at pick 10, another pick for depth would still help. If not, former Bill Jairus Byrd could be a veteran worth reacquiring.
There are only four linebackers on the current roster (Preston Brown, Reggie Ragland, Max Valles, and Ramon Humber), so at least one, if not two more are necessary. The most obvious move to make would be to re-sign 2016 Pro Bowl player Zach Brown, but according to his own twitter account, that seems unlikely to happen. The Bills would be wise to pay him market value (Spotrac estimates a 4 year/18 million dollar contract for Brown), and Lawrence Timmons just inked with the Miami Dolphins for 2 years and 12 million dollars, with 11 million guaranteed. If the Bills can handle it, they should do it. The team has also shown interest in bringing back Lorenzo Alexander, but at his age, a repeat performance of his age-33 season is less likely to occur. With Brown on the right side of 30, retaining him would be the better move on paper.
Jordan Mills was, to be polite, overwhelmed in 2016. His Pro Football Focus grade of 44.2 puts him with Kelvin Beachum as the worst offensive tackle to hit free agency who played 1,000 snaps last season. Other turnstiles in this free agent class include Gosder Cherilus, Garry Gilliam, and Earl Watford. An issue with the open market here is that there are so many question marks at the position. Sebastian Vollmer and Ryan Clady, for example, would make great Madden adds, but age and injury history suggest that the Bills would be better served spending their money somewhere else. Austin Pasztor of the Cleveland Browns is an intriguing option, having started 15 games at right tackle before starting the final game of the season at right guard. PFF lists him as a guard, but also graded his 2016 season at a 77.3. Spotrac’s market value for Pasztor sits at 4 years and 21 million dollars, or an average of 5.2 million per year. Knowing that the Bills were in on former Baltimore Ravens’ right tackle Ricky Wagner before he signed with the Detroit Lions, it stands to reason that the Bills will still look to add a tackle via free agency.
This might seem silly, since the team is set with Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson at both end positions, but go ahead and check the team’s official roster. Those are the only two defensive ends on the team! Adding via free agency is probably too rich for the Bills’ blood, but this might be a place where Lorenzo Alexander fits in as a situational pass rusher. A young player looking for an opportunity could be in play here, as well, with someone like Damontre Moore, who played for the Seattle Seahawks last season. A highly-motivated veteran looking to prove he still has something in the tank could be in play, as well; Chris Long (formerly of the New England Patriots) or Mario Williams (formerly of the Miami Dolphins) could be in play in that instance.
(Sorry...I forgot the sarcasm font for that last one...)
Our own Tristan Garnett wrote about Buffalo’s love for O.J. Howard earlier this morning, so it’s possible that the team won’t add a free agent here; however, the team has also reportedly shown interest in veteran Jared Cook. The Howard report could be typical “smoke-screen” activity, but the Alabama Crimson Tide standout is a freak athlete who is outstanding in all facets of the game. Cook is a reliable veteran who would add depth to the Rick Dennison offense.
So, if you’re keeping score at home, that leaves the Bills to add a right tackle, a tight end, two wide receivers, two linebackers, two defensive ends, two corners, and perhaps even a safety—and that’s without discussing the tandem of Tyrod Taylor and Cardale Jones at quarterback as an incomplete group.
In short, the Bills have a lot of work left to do, and Doug Whaley will need to be creative with the limited resources he has to do it.